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'Morning after' pill: why a judge ordered that even preteens can access it

The judge gave the government 30 days to make the morning-after pill available over the counter, without age restrictions. The order is likely to spark a new round of debate over the drug.

By Staff writer / April 5, 2013

This undated image made available by Teva Women's Health shows the packaging for their Plan B One-Step tablet, one of the brands known as the 'morning-after pill.' In a rebuke of the Obama administration, a federal judge ruled Friday that age restrictions on over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill are 'arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable' and must end within 30 days.

Teva Women's Health/AP

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A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to allow over-the-counter sales of emergency contraceptive pills without any age restrictions, a move likely to spark a new round of debate over the drug.

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Senior US District Judge Edward Korman issued the order late Thursday in a 59-page opinion in which he blasted officials of both the Bush and Obama administrations for allowing political considerations to undercut scientific evidence that would have long ago made the drug, known as Plan B or the morning-after pill, available to American women, teens, and girls as young as 11.

“This case is not about the potential misuse of Plan B by 11-year-olds. These emergency contraceptives would be among the safest drugs sold over-the-counter, [and] the number of 11-year-olds using these drugs is likely to be [minuscule],” Judge Korman said.

“The invocation of the adverse effect of Plan B on 11-year-olds is an excuse to deprive the overwhelming majority of women of their right to obtain contraceptives without unjustified and burdensome restrictions,” the judge said.

Reproductive-rights groups immediately hailed the decision as long overdue.

“Judge Korman’s ruling is an affirmation that policy can and should be driven by facts and by public health,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. “For years, women have had to jump through hoops because officials in Washington played politics with our health.”

“This ruling is good policy, good science, and good sense,” added Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Conservative groups were critical of the opinion and urged an appeal.

“Even [Health and Human Services] Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saw the dangers of this logic. Since when have we placed politics over the health and well-being of our kids,” asked Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America.

“This harmful ruling should be appealed, and we are confident it will be overturned,” she said.

“Teen girls need parents, not unfettered access to abortion-inducing drugs,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List. “Judge Korman’s decision is reckless and denies girls the protection that comes along with the involvement of parents and doctors.”

Korman, a Reagan nominee, has presided over the Plan B litigation for years. In 2009, he ordered the Food and Drug Administration to expand availability of the drug without prescription to 17-year-olds.

The plaintiffs in the case had long argued that the emergency contraceptive drug was safe and effective according to the FDA’s own studies and should be available without prescription regardless of age.

In an unusually candid admission by a federal judge, Korman said he rejected the plaintiffs’ argument in a 2009 decision, even though he’d concluded that the FDA had “bowed to political pressure emanating from the [Bush] White House and departed from agency policy.”

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